Mad Men – Complex Narratives


In week 9, the idea of the dispersal of quality TV and complex narratives was discussed in the lecture, focusing on the series Mad Men. Why is Mad Men is considered as a quality TV show? As mentioned, “Complex television employs a range of serial techniques, with the underlying assumption that a series is a cumulative narrative that builds over time, rather than resetting back to a steady-state equilibrium at the end of every episode” (Mittell, 2012). In Mad Men, the plot develops slowly over time and very character-centered. The show also emphasizes on building immersive storyworld. The three factors work together and create an incredible viewing experience of the show with a complex narrative.


In episode 13 ‘The Wheel’, the famous scene of the Carousel slide projector presentation by Don Draper has been many people’s favourite and an impressive end for season 1. He uses the wheel-Carousel as a time machine to go back to some of the most memorable and happy moments in his life. Don creates a relatable feeling that everyone in the storyworld and the audience can connect with, by sharing his very personal memories. In Mad Men’s complex narrative, each character is very centered that makes their actions and motivations a lot more valuable because we follow and understand their back-story over the time.


 “Since Mad Men‘s slow moving plot lacks the suspenseful cliff-hangers that often drive serial narratives … our investment in the storyworld is lodged in the characters’ struggles and motivations” (Mittel, 2010)


The ‘Carousel’ is a great example of the narrative complexity in Mad Men, as the characteristic of Don and his life untangles the most in the scene, let the audience know what makes him the way he is.

“Somewhere in the middle of that pitch, though, he realizes the place he longs to go is the place he’s already talking about, even if he won’t allow himself to feel that for more than a millisecond. He’s trapped by time, as we all are, forced to live our lives in sequence, as the same, flawed people who never really realize the truth of who they really are at heart, which is wounded and beaten and fleeting. But also, possibly, kind and good and capable of something outside of themselves.” (Vanderwerff, 2014)

 Through out the season, it transforms character development, emotion and an immersive storyworld into a powerful show on screen. In ‘The Wheel’, the pitch of Don Daper makes a very impressive scene for the episode as it recaptures and reminds the audience storylines of every character in the season as well as the themes of the show.


Mittell, J. (2010). On Disliking Mad Men.

Mittell, J. (2012). Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling, pre-publication edition.

Vanderwerff, T.(2014). Mad Men: “The Wheel”.

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